Please meet Simon “Darkside” Jackson, a first time (2014) MVP awardee in the ID@Xbox category. Simon is a self-styled “crazy evangelist guy who gets hyped with new and shiny things, tearing them apart and then showing others how to make the most of them.”
1. Simon, please tell us a little of your background: employment, training, your first PC, etc.
Ahh, things always look closer in the mirror when looking back. It’s been a fun ride in this life so far. I’ve been in to “computers” for as long as I can remember, always tinkering, always breaking things apart to make them go better / faster. I started way back when with a humble Commodore Vic 20 with a whirring tape deck, even from those humble beginnings I was drafting games in basic and other languages (basically anything I could get from school or the limited set of magazines). Granted it didn’t really start to kick off till I got my ZX Spectrum +2 and the fantastic Spectrum magazine, which each month came littered with pages of code to make games. After that I really wanted a serious game machine but I didn’t get what I expected, instead Father Christmas brought me an Amstrad 1640. Not what I had expected but it really turned my world around. By the end of it’s life, the machine had been amped up so much, there was barely anything recognizable from it’s humble beginnings. So started my journey as both a hardware and software developer. Another twist occurred when I started at college. I had tried to get in to computer science (but it was full) so I ended up doing electronic engineering, which was so much more fun and rewarding, especially when building humongous creations and then programming them as well, hack style projects certainly became my life.
Granted this all slowed when I entered the workplace. I was contracting straight out of college, trying as many different careers as I could find. From R&D electronics, to field engineer and eventually settling as an architect, which let me try my hand at just about any kind of technology I wished, fun times. These days in my work life I’m a humble Technical Architect working for a healthcare software firm, trying desperately to update the NHS (Nation Health Service) in the UK with better tools. It doesn’t always go to plan, usually hitting the “That’s how we have always done it” wall more often than not but there is always some progress.
Outside of work is a different story, with every spare piece of time I could find, I am out there learning, hacking and building. Then taking that knowledge and experience to teach others, either in speaking events, my blog, even in printed form now.
I’ve been an avid Game Development evangelist for many years, through C++ to MDX, XNA (YAY!!) and beyond in all the platforms I could reach. in recent years I’ve contributed to and used the MonoGame platform (http://monogame.net), picked up Unity3D (http://Unity3d.com) and started writing books on it. Additionally I am always digging in to as many other different game Development frameworks as I can. Not only that I support a lot of different Open Source projects, always lending a hand and contributing as much as time allows. Most notably, I co-run the AdRotator project which aims to help developers better monetize their projects by supporting multiple ad providers in stead of just one.
2. How did you become an MVP, and what were your thoughts when you first heard of getting the award?
For my MVP award, I’d been recognized for many years but had never managed to achieve the mantel for whatever reason (lost count of the numerous nominations over the years but never got picked). Eventually it was for my Game Development efforts that I was picked up by the new ID@Xbox program thanks to the keen efforts of a number of MS insiders (Mainly Lee Stott as he fought hard for my case). It is certainly interesting now being on the insider ranks and I’m still learning loads.
Above all I still continue to help Game Developers out there to better develop their products and (where possible) try to encourage to get on the lucrative Windows platforms, whichever one (or more) that may be. It’s not essential but it’s better to build on a common framework and target as many platforms as possible, With MS platforms however it is just easier and very competitive on price (can’t argue with Free everything!)
3. Tell us how the technology you work with/develop applies to/benefits the end user?
Above all I always focus on technologies that enable multi-platform development/deployment, whether that’s grunting through C++, Xamarin’s C# multi-platform deployment (which MonoGame is based upon) or using frameworks such as Unity. Every aim is to master the “code once deploy everywhere” ethos and get the best bang for your buck. Granted it’s never that simple but through experience and collaboration it is very easy to get teams more productive.
The only area I have swayed away from until now (apart from when I had to) is web technologies. But nothing ever stays still and I will no doubt dabble again when I have the time.
4. Tell us about the companies you work for and your roles there:
My work life is so much more drab to my personal life. In work it’s more about putting food on the table and doing what’s necessary to “bring home the bacon”. It’s fair to say I don’t love the work I do (it has it’s moments when I do get to show people something new or a new way of doing things, but that is becoming rarer these days with the economic climate). I do what is needed to support my family.
Where I shine is when the bell tolls, I throw off the disguise I wear by day and don my ultra-tight pants and start exploring and evangelizing (granted I don’t think I’ve yet been discovered in public in my costume!)
5. Downtime: what activities do you like to do away from technology?
Outside of work and technology time (does such a thing exist?) I am a down to earth Dad and doing lots of family actives. Raising kids is such an adventure in itself (even better when you can share your technology passion with your kids as well). I try to have some fun downtime either playing games, instead of building / teaching them (HALO!!!) and cycling (weather permitting) and even the odd board game from time to time (especially Warhammer!)
6. Bucketlist: (just one or two top ones)
Now I’m an MVP, one of the top items on my bucket list, is to actually attend an MVP summit (missed out on the 2014 bash as it was just to close when I was awarded) and meet in person some of that awesome crowd. Other than that I hope to continue as I do, getting excited about new technology, ripping it apart and showing others how to put it back together (only better).
Sure I’d like to travel, but family comes first. With 4 kids, a wife, a dog, a horse and a mortgage, it’s tricky. We try where we can.